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Maniac mall cop on a rampage in dark, funny Observe and Report

by Glen Baity

Are mall cops funny enough to warrant two movies? I steered clear of the first one, so I can’t say with any authority that Observe and Report’s Ronnie Barnhardt is the anti- Blart, however strong my hunch is. But I do know this: Observe and Report should not be the centerpiece of your family movie night.

That’s not to say it isn’t funny, and devilishly so. Seth Rogen plays the hero, a manic depressive with a taser and a raging ego. As head of mall security, Ronnie considers himself the lone agent of order in a world gripped by chaos. The comedy and the tragedy, of course, is that Ronnie’s world is Forest Ridge Mall. It contains his only friends (a team of goofballs led by Michael Peña); his nemesis (Aziz Ansari); and his one true love, perfume counter girl Brandi (a delightfully odious Anna Faris). Ronnie has all these elements well in hand, but when Observe and Report opens, Forest Ridge is being infiltrated by the forces of darkness in the form of a short, chubby flasher who exposes himself to the female customers. To Ronnie, this means war, but when the flasher brazenly returns for a second lap around the parking lot, this time terrorizing fair Brandi, it means Armageddon. The only thing keeping Ronnie from mounting a Gatling gun on the roof is the hapless mall manager (Dan Bakkedahl), who asks the police to investigate, to Ronnie’s infinite disgust. On top of a flasher, he now has to deal with self-important Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) horning in while he’s trying to impress his vapid, meanspirited lust object. Writer-director (and UNC School of the Arts alum) Jody Hill expands on his affection for neutered alpha males in his second film. Like Danny McBride’s deluded karate instructor in The Foot Fist Way, Observe and Report is about a hero with a fatal combination of low station and high self-opinion. Ronnie considers himself the ultimate badass, but there’s a gulf between how much power he actually has and how much power he thinks he should have. So he’s a bit of a jerk, and your enjoyment of Observe and Report will be directly proportional to how comfortable you are seeing him suffer. Me, I like my comedy dark, and Hill is mostly successful at bringing the laughs while exploring Ronnie’s sad little life. Credit is due to Rogen, who breaks from his likeable oaf type to play a meaner, more oblivious character. You won’t love Ronnie, but you will probably laugh at almost everything that comes out of his mouth. Ditto for Faris, who throws herself into her irredeemable character and comes up with some of the film’s most memorable moments. But be warned: Observe and Report is not for everyone. Hill’s sensibility is somewhere between Adam McKay and Todd Solondz, and it can be hard to watch when he skews toward the latter. This is a thoroughly vulgar, sometimes bleak trip into the psyche of a wannabe hero, and while it’s crazy funny, it’s almost too much of a downer in places. Ultimately, it’s worth it. I’ve always been fascinated by characters with Christ complexes, whose selfaggrandizement causes them to believe that they, and they alone, are the defenders of innocence and righteousness (think D-Fens in Falling Down, or Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver). Movies made about these characters usually approach them as tragic heroes, so kudos to Hill for mocking the whole concept. Observe and Report holds nothing sacred — certainly not the happiness of its characters, nor the comfort of its audience — consequently, it is not for people looking for a pleasant evening at the food court.

To comment on this story, e-mail Glen Baity at glen. baity@gmail.com.

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